Clare Lochary

Blankenship fits the Lowe’s Senior CLASS Award mold to a T

by Clare Lochary December 27, 2010 in Volleyball

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There aren’t many Ellie Blankenships in the world. More’s the pity.

Blankenship, a senior libero from the University of Northern Iowa, is the inaugural Lowe’s Senior CLASS award winner for volleyball. Her performance on the court, in the classroom and in the community has made her a figure of respect in volleyball-crazy Cedar Falls, where the Panthers attract an average of more than 2,000 fans per game.

“Volleyball’s very popular in Iowa. We have so much respect for volleyball in our community, and Ellie’s a huge role model. Everybody wants to be Ellie,” says Northern Iowa coach Bobbi Petersen. “It’s so much more than volleyball. She’s just a good kid, someone you want to be around. I love that they love her.”

Originally a walk-on, Blankenship became a staple of the UNI lineup.

“Bobbi made it pretty clear that when I was thinking about coming here, she considers everyone on the same level. Everyone has a chance to see the floor. That was really cool for me,” said Blankenship. “I knew that if I worked hard, it would pay off. I didn’t really come in with any expectations at all. I was just playing my game and everything else fell into place.”

Blankenship was an outside hitter in high school but has embraced the sometimes thankless libero position at the college level.

“I love the defense aspect, and it can really make or break a team,” she said. “I love being able to give it the amount of respect that I think it should get.”

In 2010, Blankenship had a team-leading 658 digs, and became the eighth player in Division I history with more than 2,500 career digs. She was MVP of the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament, and led the Panthers to a No. 10 national ranking and their fourth consecutive NCAA tournament appearance.

“She’s not one of those overly fiery liberos. She does it more with a calmer presence and a confidence,” said Petersen. “Still, she’s one of those kids who can make the crazy play. I’ve never seen a kid with so many one-armed plays.”

Besides the stats she puts up on the court, Blankenship has also earned a 3.01 GPA as an information management systems major. She describes the discipline as “kind of a combination of business and computers. You get to be the connection between the compete computer geeks and the business side. We’ll see where it takes me.”

Blankenship’s considerable philanthropic efforts have already taken her as far as Kenya, which she visited on a mission through Prairie View Church over spring break. The group worked with locals to help build a bridge and a fence around a medical center.

“It was so amazing. I would go back in a heartbeat. You’re kinda living on a biological clock, and it makes you grounded being able to see things like that and being able to help,” said Blankenship.

Closer to home, Blankenship is active in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee and the Management Informations Systems Association. She volunteers at the local humane society, a food bank and a reading program for elementary school students. She and her teammates also helped to sandbag Cedar Falls during the massive floods that hit Iowa during 2008.

“It was really cool to see people rally together,” said Blankenship, a Cedar Rapids native.

Despite her accomplishments, Blankenship remains modest.

“She’s a very humble individual. I don’t think she has any concept of the kind of influence she has over people,” said Petersen.  “She definitely has left a mark, and she’s not a kid you can replace.”